Warning! This entire discussion contains spoilers for Zero Dark Thirty.



Evie Totty | January 10, 2013
Am I mistaken or are there no comments so far? No intro?

Well I'm taking my 'group' to see this movie Saturday morning the 12th so I'll have a review then. I was surprised Bigelowe did not get a Best Director nom for it though.

Scott Hardie | April 7, 2013
I was surprised too, but Affleck's omission was the biggest surprise. Perhaps the Academy thought Bigelow was duly honored for The Hurt Locker and didn't need more recognition so soon? More likely they were just cold on this film overall. It's the kind of film one admires more than loves.

Much has been made of the torture scenes, whether Bigelow glorifies the act or criticizes it. The film is a Rorscach test in that regard, but I don't think it meant to be. I think torture was a major part of the world these agents worked in, and it was necessary to include in the picture. That the first hint that ultimately leads to bin Laden comes from the mouth of a man who was tortured does not inherently mean that the movie thinks torture was justified: The movie doesn't necessarily think anything, even that killing bin Laden was good. The filmmakers show the details that they think are important, in an manner that best summarizes the ten-year story in a reasonable running time. (Far more questionable to me are the scene where the protagonist is caught in a hotel bombing, and the scene where her only friend is killed in a car bomb, thus personally connecting her to two major events in the CIA's Middle Eastern work over this time period. Maybe it was true of the real woman who inspired Maya, but it felt a bit like Maya was Forrest Gump, somehow present for every important moment over the years.)

What was curious to me about the torture scenes was how easy they were to watch. Maybe I had braced myself too much. Hollywood has depicted some pretty brutal, graphic, and difficult torture scenes before, and Zero Dark Thirty's just aren't that bad by comparison. Waterboarding is no doubt horrible to experience, but to watch, it's just a guy held down while water is poured on him, like a prank played by a mean older brother. At other times, a prisoner is held in a standing position by his arms for hours, or prevented from sleeping for days by loud music, or humiliated in front of a woman, or locked in a small box: Again, all awful to experience, but none really difficult to watch on screen. The movie tries to make the torture seem worse by having Maya look away in discomfort, but I find it hard to believe that a trained and toughened spook like her would have trouble watching this if I didn't. Maybe you had to be there.

Another aspect of the film inspiring some discussion is whether the heroine is too perfect, too much a character of traditional Hollywood formula rather than a real person. If the character is indeed just a product of a screenwriting class, then the film is remarkably subtle about it, far more so than most movies, and for this reason alone I think the discussion is moot. But as with the torture, her motivations are open to interpretation. When I see this woman determined to get revenge on bin Laden, spurred on by the murder of her friend or personalizing the mission of SEAL Team Six as if they kill for her alone, I don't see Hollywood's gears cranking. I see an intentional metaphor, a dramatization of the way that all of us Americans feel about bin Laden. One of my crystal-clear memories of the afternoon of 9/11 is telling a friend that, despite what liberal politics and moral positions I normally had, I wanted bin Laden dead for what he had done; I wanted blood and nothing else mattered. We as a nation have spent a decade wrestling with that vengeful impulse. The story makes Maya hell-bent on personal revenge against bin Laden because the mission to kill him was personal, for millions of people, and the movie needs to deal with those feelings if it's going to be a complete portrayal.

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